What if. What if 2020 had gone as per plan? What if social distance and quarantines and bio-bubbles were still the stuff of sci-fi thrillers and academic research volumes? What if people were still hugging each other?
We look at the imaginary diary of a reporter covering the world of Indian sports in a 2020 that would have heard the word 'corona' and immediately thought, 'expensive beer.'
2020 gets off to a shocking start for Indian badminton. PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal are the only two Indians who make it past the second round of the Malaysia masters, but neither win their quarterfinal. No Indian even makes it to a quarter in the Indonesia Masters.
Sindhu, though, appears eerily calm about the whole thing.
India finish third in the medal tally at the Asian Wrestling Championships with five golds -- Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Sunil Kumar, Pinki, Divya Kakran and Sarita Mor. The charismatic leader of the contingent and silver medallist in the men's 65kg freestyle here, Bajrang Punia declares that they will return with a record haul from Tokyo. Even those who want to laugh hesitate after they spot the look in his eyes... and the size of those arms.
Indian women's cricket wins over a whole new generation of fans with a smashing run to their inaugural T20 World Cup final. There, though, they run into the juggernaut that is Meg Lanning's Australia. The four-time champions make it five (five! Out of seven!) with a win so comprehensive that the margin of victory is almost as much as India's total.
For Indian women's cricket, it doesn't matter, though. They are on an upward trajectory that no one can stop now. Shafali Verma, all of 16 years old and a six-hitting phenom, is Indian cricket's poster girl. You can almost hear her say "Boost is the secret of my energy!"
It's the final of the ISL. A capacity Fatorda crowd obviously miss their home team, but cheer on Messrs. Krishna, Crivellaro, Williams, and Thapa as ATK beat Chennaiyin FC and are crowned champions a record third time. Someone accesses Sanjiv Goenka's diary, where there's a doodle of a man on a boat and three stars above it. Written right below that are the words "Everyone will love this".
The young superstars of Indian shooting warm up for the Olympics with the first World Cup of the year in Delhi. They demolish their competition. India now have 17 confirmed quotas at the Olympics, the nation's biggest ever shooting contingent. The Olympics won't know what hit them.
India's badminton stars continue to struggle, through the All England Open, but Sindhu and co. remain confident about their chances in Tokyo.
Neeraj Chopra makes an inspired comeback to competitive action in the Doha Diamond League. He finishes fifth, but he is throwing well, and says he's getting back to peak just in time for the big O.
The Indian sporting world then collapses into itself as the IPL gets off to a start. As ever, it dominates conversation on TV, newspapers, twitter, and around the office coffee dispenser. Everyone wants to know why KXIP are still sticking with Glenn Maxwell... just how much worse could David Miller be?
Things are different in the IPL this time. MS Dhoni is being booed at Chepauk. CSK finish dead last. No, seriously. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers are smashing balls to Cubbon Park and actually winning matches. The Delhi Capitals are consistent and finish the league stage on top. KKR field the same XI in all their matches -- experiments are for losers -- and qualify for the playoffs easily.
In the end, Rohit Sharma lifts the trophy. Ok, maybe it's not all that different.
Rani Rampal and co. go on a remarkable run in the Asian Champions Trophy, winning silver after a tough final against South Korea. "We will restore pride in Indian hockey in Japan," says Rampal. The sniggers are as loud as the cheers.
July starts with Leander Paes making it a century of Grand Slam main draw appearances with a run to the third round of Wimbledon and ends with him playing in a record eighth Olympic Games. The last roar is loud and proud. After a decent run into the quarters of the Olympics, he announces that he will be back for more in 2024. The penultimate roar was loud and proud, then.
The Olympics are bigger and better than ever before for India. The shooting superstars get things off to a flier -- golds in the women's 10m air rifle, the men's 10m air pistol and women's 10m air pistol propel Elavenil Valarivan, Saurabh Chaudhary, and Manu Bhaker to superstardom. Abhinav Bindra's smile lights up every TV news programme. "I am not lonely anymore."
Shooting is the highlight of India's Olympics -- there are four more medals, with Bhaker and Chaudhary's mixed 10m air pistol world record gold the zenith of a path-breaking team performance.
The Olympics dominate the month.
Neeraj Chopra becomes the first Indian (post-independence) to medal in an Olympic track and field event. The Indian women's 4*400m relay team make the final. Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat destroy their opponents on the way to historic golds. Amit Panghal left-hooks his way to silver. The Indian women's hockey team pulls off a stunning run that ends with them winning a sensational bronze -- #RaniRampalForPresident trends on Twitter. Shah Rukh Khan announces Chak De 2 is in the works. No one's sniggering anymore.
And then up steps PV Sindhu. A one-and-half-hour epic against a passionately-backed Nozomi Okuhara gives her gold. She's all smiles and tears and some more smiles. India come home with more medals than the last three Olympic Games combined.
Meanwhile, sections of Kerala and West Bengal have something more to celebrate -- Argentina win gold in the football, but that's not who the applause is for. Diego Armando Maradona hobbles up to the podium to present his "children" their medals, his smile as wide as it has ever been.
Everyone's hungover from the Olympics. Reporters and cameras are being sent to villages to talk to third cousins and kindergarten coaches. Land registrars are busy fulfilling the promises of assorted Chief Ministers to the various medal winners. India basks in the reflected glory of a record medal haul. "We always believed in our athletes," chime newsrooms across the country, sharpened knives carefully placed back underneath their desks.
It's the men's T20 World Cup. Because we can never have enough T20 cricket in a year.
West Indies start the tournament amid high drama as Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard opt out of the squad, to play in the inaugural Vintage Vanuatu T20 Championship.
Afghanistan Rashid-Khan their way to a semifinal. The other three spots go to the usual suspects. Australia and India smash their way to one of those, where Glen Maxwell decides to troll KL Rahul with a world record 100* off 33 balls. Australia score 255 in their 20. Mitchell Starc, who had skipped the IPL (and got plenty of stick online for it -- because what else is twitter for?) then bowls India out for 120.
England, though, are crowned champions after Ben Stokes smashes 75 in 20, takes a fifer, and saves a spectator's life with emergency CPR. Is there anything that man can't do?
Russell is crowned MVP in Port Vila, by the by.
India host the women's U-17 World Cup. The hosts don't make it out of the group stage, but much like their men's counterparts three years ago, emerge with reputations enhanced and pride intact. The AIFF announces the formation of an Indian Arrows women's team, for the further development of this talented bunch of youngsters, and say they will take part in next season's IWL.
Considering that right now, the IWL is played in peak summer, in day time, and lasts a little short of a month, it remains unclear just how much the kids will benefit from Indian Arrows (W), but here's to hoping...
Meanwhile, Mexico beat North Korea in a brilliant final (3-2) to take home their first ever World Cup win.
The first Kolkata derby in the ISL is played out in front of a capacity Salt Lake stadium crowd that hurl cement-and-washing-machine based obscenities at each other. Roy Krishna scores, ATK Mohun Bagan win 1-0. As you were.
Srikanth Kidambi's good run of form (including an Olympic quarterfinal) rewards him with a place in the BWF World Tour finals, where he faces Victor Axelsen in the first knockout round. It's not pretty -- think India Open 2018. Axelsen then proceeds to lose an epic one-hour battle with Olympic Champion Kento Momota. PV Sindhu, meanwhile, jump-smashes her way to yet another high, winning the year-end crown. "This year I've learned to settle for gold," she smirks.
And just like that a superb 2020 for Indian sports comes to end, with arguably India's best athlete of her time doing what she does best. Winning. A perfectly normal ending to a perfectly normal year. Wonder what all the fuss was about that bat in Wuhan last year.